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Blog of Sarah McIntyre, children's book writer & illustrator
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1. manx lit fest quiz 2014

Last weekend Philip Reeve and I flew out to the Isle of Man for the Manx Lit Fest. We'll blog about it in more detail soon, but here's a quick taster of our adventures.

Our first assignment was to be quiz masters for the Book Fanatics’ Quiz Night.



We’d never run a quiz before, but while we wouldn’t want to blow our own trumpets, we were magnificent. So we’ll put our new-found quiz-running skills to use in the rest of this blog.

Test Your Reeve & McIntyre Knowledge

QUESTION 1: How many authors can you fit into the lift at the Regency Hotel in Douglas?



ANSWER: Just Sarah: all the other authors have to walk up the stairs.

QUESTION 2: Can you guess the purpose of these unusual objects?



ANSWER: Yes.

QUESTION 3: What is this?
a) A hat?
b) A cake?





ANSWER: Both! It’s the winning entry of the Family Library’s ‘Cakes in Space’ competition, designed and made by David.



QUESTION 4: What happens if you press this button?





ANSWER: All of the above.

QUESTION 5: When exploring the ruins of Peel Castle, can McIntyre do a good brooding face?



ANSWER: No.

QUESTION 6: Can Reeve do a good brooding face?



ANSWER: Yes, it is one of the most impressive things we have ever seen.

QUESTION 7: Can you guess who is typing this blog?

ANSWER: Yes.

QUESTION 8: What is the title of Reeve and McIntyre’s next stadium rock album?

a) The Unforgettable… Um… Errr….
b) The Joshua Hatstand
c ) Appetite for Destruction and Biscuits
d) Kippers By Post




ANSWER: The Unforgettable… Thingy, you know, oh, it’s on the tip of my tongue…

(Kippers by Post is, of course, the title of McIntyre’s new solo album of Gaelic lullabies.)



QUESTION 9: How much is this 1960s Sarah McIntyre action figure worth? (Note that it is still in its original box.)



ANSWER: It’s yours for a tub of Manx Knobs and a fistful of fresh Queenies.

QUESTION 10: Where does McIntyre keep her emergency doughnut supply?

a) In her hamster-like cheek pouches.
b) In an offshore bank.
c) Concealed in her wig.



ANSWER: C. These doughnuts have not been concealed well enough, and have attracted the attentions of local wildfowl.

HOW DID YOU SCORE?

0 - 3 Well done! You are a very sensible person and probably haven’t bothered reading this far.

4-6 You have a profound appreciation for Manx culture and literary life.

7-10 Congratulations! You are awarded honorary membership of the Reeve & McIntyre Appreciation Society! (Meetings held regularly in the lift at the Regency Hotel, Douglas.)

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2. budleigh salterton lit fest 2014

Traveling to rural Devon in full space costume must be the zenith of my career. Look at Spaceman Reeve, he's practically glowing with radiation.



Devon people, do not be alarmed if you look toward the end of your garden and see an other-worldly figure emerge.



He mostly comes in peace.



Invite him in to your home, for he is quite handy in the kitchen.



The Western Morning News printed a double-page spread to commemorate the spectacle.



Once we got used to the earth's gravity, we set off for Budleigh Salterton.


Photo by Sarah Reeve


And there we were, Budleigh Salterton Literary Festival! We demonstrated some of the gadgetry in our book, including the wonderous Nom-O-Tron, which can, from a simple protein formula, synthesise any sort of food you like.


Photo by Sarah Reeve

And I was pleased to find it produced a most excellent coffee walnut cake. (My favourite!)


Photo by Sarah Reeve

We always get people drawing at our events - everyone drew Pilbeam the robot with me - but this girl, Lauren Taylor, drew a whole comic strip in between the time we finished the show and the book signing session!



Check it out: killer cakes, robots, even little Reeve and McIntyre royalty! I like my victorious arm gesture at the end.



It's so fun getting people to draw Pilbeam. (Reeve does a great Pilbeam voice when we do one of the readings from Cakes in Space.)



I think people get a lot of confidence seeing that, if they take a drawing step by step, they can turn out something interesting on their paper. And I love how the drawings don't all look exactly like mine; they all have their own intriguing character.



Thanks so much to everyone who came along to see us and made drawings!



And big thanks to the organisers of Budleigh lit fest, we enjoyed our visit very much.


Photo by Sarah Reeve

And here's our production team, the most excellent Sarah Reeve and Stuart! Sarah did a great job bringing a killer cake on stage for us to examine in a Great-British-Bake-Off style, and Stuart worked the music (composed by Sarah Reeve). Thanks, team!



We even met one of the stars of the Save Budleigh Library documentary film and, when our event was finished, we stopped by the library for a peek. A nice lady with a zimmer frame insisted I wear her scarf for the photo.



I contributed a bit to the video, which you can see here. We do hope the government reconsiders closing this heart of the community and listens to local people who are throwing themselves into the campaign.



It was quite funny walking around Budleigh Salterton in cognito. We passed several people who had been at our event and they didn't recognise us at all without our space gear. Hey, check out the stone pictures on Budleigh beach! A masted ship, a panda, a bee, a Dalek, a whole pebble exhibition.



It's a beautiful place and I'd never been before; so glad to have had the chance.



Sarah's a professional portrait photographer and took lots of photos of us in her studio when we got back to the Reeve Ranch. They're great; I'll show those off soon! In the meantime, you can follow Budleigh lit fest on Twitter as @BudleighLitFest. And if you missed us this time, be sure to keep an eye on my Events Page if you want to catch us in action!

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3. cakes in space: a peek at the illustration process

Some of my illustration in my new book with Philip Reeve, Cakes in Space, are quite complicated, so here's a breakdown of how I've made one of them. This scene shows a battle between a strange, black-spaghetti-like alien, astronaut Astra, Pilbeam the robot and a host of mutant killer cakes. (Such a traditional children's book scene, right? I love being able to dream up this stuff with Philip.)



Thumbnails: First I start by making rough 'thumbnail sketches' of possible scenes in the book. They're called thumbnails because they're tiny, just large enough to give our designer at Oxford University Press an idea of where things might go on the page, so she can figure out where the text could fit in. You can spot these two pages in the middle of the bottom row. (I drew lots of thumbnails all on one page together.)




'Who was your designer?', you may ask. Well, here she is, the lovely and talented Jo Cameron, on the left, in her wonderful colour-coordinated orange and black dress. The other two people are Liz Cross, our publisher (in the centre), and our editor, Clare Whitston, on the right (wearing the fascinators Jo made).



Back to work.... I added a bit of blackness on the stretched-out spaghetti alien to show Jo that I didn't want the text to go on its body. And she e-mailed it back like this, with text.



Pencil roughs: Then I made a more detailed version in pencil (called a 'pencil rough'). It's still scratchy and full of mistakes, but I have a much better idea of what's going to go on the page. (This is the version that a lot of reviewers saw, in the 'Uncorrected Proof Copy', a printed version of the book with only about half of my artwork completed.)



Going to INK: This is my favourite bit, the inking. I love it because I've already made the big stressful decisions about where everything will go, and I can have fun with the details and focus on making the line look nice. I dip an old-fashioned metal nib into India ink and trace over the pencil on a lightbox. I like doing it this way because I don't have to go back and erase the pencil, and risk smudging the ink.

A good tip, if you're drawing with a nib and India ink: the ink clogs the nib very quickly, so have a little jar of water nearby. Every few minutes, you can dip the nib into the water and wipe off the extra ink and water on a cloth or some kitchen roll. If you let the ink dry on the nib, you'll need to boil the kettle and swish the nib around in your teacup with a toothpick, until the ink comes off.



This is a different page, but it's a closeup of me inking some of the mutant cakes. They were super-fun to draw! I didn't use expensive paper, just cheap drawing cartridge. If the paper was too thick, I wouldn't have been able to see through it clearly enough to trace.



And here's what the page looks like, all inked up. (Feel free to try colouring it yourself, if you like.)



Next, I scanned the inked page into my computer.

Scanning breakdown: For this one, I scanned it in 'Bitmap', which is total black and white, no gray areas. That makes it very, very clean. And I think I scanned it at 1200 dots per inch, which is probably a higher resolution than I needed (600 dpi would have been fine), but I wanted to make sure I didn't lose any line quality. I then opened it in Photoshop, converted it to Grayscale and shrunk it down to 600 dpi, so it wouldn't be so big that it would crash my computer.

I don't have a photo of myself, working on exactly that page, but here I am with my laptop and the Wacom mouse pen that I use for colouring. (Note the scarf: it was the dead of winter and very cold!)



Here's a coloured-up version! When I coloured the previous book, Oliver and the Seawigs, I only let myself use blue and light blue. And in this book, I tried to stick to just orange, but I struggled with that; light orange isn't orange anymore, it's peach. I didn't want a whole book full of peach colour, it might look like some horrible old bathroom. So I also used gray in this book, and then added a few extra colours just for the human skin tones, so Astra's mum could have a rich chocolatey-colour skin, and Astra could be a little bit darker than peach.

Limited palette: Even though the book was printed using a full-colour technique (so I could have had ALL the colours of the rainbow!), I was still very strict with myself about keeping a very limited colour palette. I just like the look of limited colours, and that decision gives the artwork a slight retro feel, like space stories from the Sixties. Philip and I liked that era's positive spin on things, how people were still optimistic about building new worlds and new societies, and we wanted to capture that feeling.



Adding texture: I was looking at that coloured scene and I thought, Hmm, this is a big cakey, crumbly battle... it still looks too tidy. So I added texture. I had already scanned in a bit of texture for some of the cakes, but the splotchy background texture comes from a big piece of watercolour paper with stains all over it that I made with over-brewed tea. After the tea had dried, I scanned in the sheet (full colour, I think, so I could use it with other things), turned it gray in Photoshop, then added it to the digital image, as a layer all over everything.

That's the thing about digital artwork, I always have to make sure it doesn't look bland because everything's a bit too tidy and clean, so I'm constantly scanning in handmade textures. People ask me if I draw by hand or work digitally, and you can see that it's really a mixture of both.



Here's a little peek at the rest of the book, and I've included several How-to-draw Activity sheets on the Cakes in Space page on my website, so do go over and have a look!

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4. summer reading challenge: congratulations, everyone!

I've heard so many wonderful things about this year's Summer Reading Challenge, and SO many people took part! I got this message from the kids at Dewsbury Library in Kirklees, who were having a party to celebrate earning this year's medals:



So right here from the studio in London where I make my books, I've made a message back! It's for Kirklees and ALL the people who took part in the Summer Reading Challenge: readers, librarians, volunteers, family members, sponsors... probably even more people were involved than that. Thank you!



And here's the slightly fancier video we made at Leith Library, if you want to see that, too. :)

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5. that babushka can boogie

This is terrific! (Thanks for the link, crafty person Alice Brewer!)


Roman Kulchenko - Our Response to Sanctions

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6. cakes in space, the london invasion

Yesterday morning we had our Cakes in Space launch! And there were cake hats! Cakes with eyes! Cakes that were ALIVE....


Photo by Rebecca Portsmouth - rebeccalouise.com

The previous day, my co-author Philip Reeve and I had signed stock for indie bookshops and prepared for the next day's event, but we had no idea what sorts of life forms we'd encounter.



In the morning, my trusty companion, Stuart, and I travelled light years to Marylebone High Street to the space station that is Daunt Books.



And we were met by cakes! Cakes with eyes!


Photo by Rebecca Portsmouth - rebeccalouise.com


These fearsome creatures were carefully herded by cake wranglers from Oxford University Press, including Cecily, Camille Davis and Hattie Bayly.



Sweet wheat-based morsels clamped on to people's heads and wouldn't get off!



But somehow, these people took it in their stride...



...They couldn't seem to understand their peril.



In fact - shock horror - some of the visitors even ENCOURAGED the cakes in their ferocious tendencies.



I sensed these cakes had undue influence on their hosts.


Photo by Deadly Knitshade - whodunnknit.com

Fearless scientists that we are, Reeve and I took to the podium to investigate these strange happenings.


Photo by Rebecca Portsmouth - rebeccalouise.com

Philip demonstrated the wonder of SCIENCE, how in the future in Cakes in Space, people can insert protein sachets into the marvellous NOM-O_TRON and produce the most excellent food you can imagine. In Philip's case, it was a chocolate biscuit.


Photo by Rebecca Portsmouth - rebeccalouise.com

Of course, I had to jump in and try out this science of the future.


Photo by Rebecca Portsmouth - rebeccalouise.com

I could envision MUCH more awesome treats than Philip, so I'd be sure to get something at least a hundred times better.


Photo by Rebecca Portsmouth - rebeccalouise.com

But what was this? A carrot?!! ...Science is not all it's cracked up to be.


Photo by Rebecca Portsmouth - rebeccalouise.com

This little girl was seriously skeptical. I expect she'll grow up and become the sort of scientist who relies on things like DATA and EVIDENCE, which is rather an odd concept.


Photo by Rebecca Portsmouth - rebeccalouise.com

But those cakes were still lurking, so we delved into our carefully researched report and read out useful passages to the audience, warning them about their impending doom.


Photo by Rebecca Portsmouth - rebeccalouise.com

Now, I ought not to give away all the secrets of our research, but I can allude to a strange occurrence during the event, brought on by Visitors from Elsewhere, which left Philip struck to the heart with tragic loss. ...A moment of silence, please.


Photo by Rebecca Portsmouth - rebeccalouise.com

To deal with these dangers in the future, we need TECHNOLOGY, mostly in the form of robots who look rather friendly. I drew a diagram of a Cakes in Space-featured robot named Pilbeam. And so that the schematics of this fine robot would not be forgotten by future generations, I had everyone draw Pilbeam along with me, implanting the robot's makeup directly into their brains.



And the implantation was successful, each diagram slightly altered so that the memory could not be wiped out by a single virus. (Clever, yes?)


Pictures by @LAWsomeTweets and Katie on Martin Hand's Flickr page

To lighten this dark, prophetic mood, Philip and I sang a ballad from the future, dating to just the time before everyone gets artsy-fartsy and starts singing only in binary.



What wonderous things these humans have wrought!



We practiced our Battle Cry of the Future, in case our defensive technology is not enough to ward off the killer cakes.



And still the cakes lurked, preferring the cranial regions.



Don't be deluded by their enticing appearance...



...these cakes have issues.


Photo by Rebecca Portsmouth - rebeccalouise.com

Despite the gloom and doom of the presentation, the front window display at Daunt Books Marylebone looked quite jolly. We suspect they may be in collusion with the killer cakes.



After our signing, Philip and I traveled with Norwegian starship captain Karoline Bakken to another satellite of Daunt.



Despite its rather old-fashioned facade, Daunt Books Highgate IS the future and houses a time machine in its basement.



The staff let us inscribe coded warnings for future generations in their Cakes in Space books but pretended not to know what we were talking about when we asked them about the time machine. So we left them, vowing to return when their secret could be revealed.



As we traveled, Captain Bakken lavished unwarranted affection on our captured cake. Being nice to cakes doesn't help anything, you ought to know. Eat the cake before it eats you, that's our motto.



Next stop: Daunt Books Holland Park.



But what is this? My co-pilot decided to go undercover, to wear CIVVIES, while I remained still properly clad in my fighting uniform. Obviously this is a sign of some overarching PLAN we have, but I can't tell you about it or I'll have to kill you.



Be aware. Be vigilant. Run to your nearest bookshop and snatch up a copy of Cakes in Space so that you, too, can be prepared for alien cake attack. You NEVER KNOW when they might strike. I will leave you with our public service broadcast:

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7. roald dahl day

Today's Roald Dahl Day and, for The Telegraph, a bunch of other authors and I have picked our favourite characters from his books. Check it out, I choose the same one as Steve Cole and Andy Stanton! (I typed my answer into my phone as I was walking down Charing Cross Road and I didn't even bump into anyone.)

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8. at first I thought, wow, she’s posh

Here's the video of our Summer Reading Challenge visit to Leith Library! Philip Reeve came along and made a very elegant flip-chart stand. I love it when the boy says, At first I thought, wow, she’s posh! She had like, that bird in her hair, and fancy blue ribbon… and a dress with lipstick on it… and it was like, really posh.

Philip noted that support for Scottish independence has soared since our visit; I hope we weren't a contributing factor...



Thanks again to the kids at Leith Library who helped me come up with the Mythical Maze characters on my previous visit, and to the library team, Edinburgh City Libraries, The Reading Agency, and Tesco Bank Community for organising the day's event.

In other news, after my meeting at Scholastic yesterday, I stopped into Foyles on Charing Cross Road and found this book looking up at me from the display table. One of my all-time favourite illustrators that I'm always going on about, David Roberts, and... hats! Oh my word, you guys!!! Why didn't no one tell me about this book??



David drew his inspiration for the Happy Birthday Madame Chapeau illustrations from fashion editor Isabella Blow, and milliners Philip Treacy (spot the Princess Beatrice hat!, Stephen Jones, and Elsa Schiaparelli (note the shoe-on-the-head hat). And David has a little cameo appearance on this spread, too!



Let's zoom in a bit to read the text:



The book's writer, Andrea Beaty, and I just started following each other on Twitter, so I went and explored her website and there are treasures to be found! Check out this wonderful video of Philip Treacy making a hat! I was totally riveted.



David worked as a milliner, and you can tell, in the sculptural way he draws his figures and their patterns. I put together my hats with a bit of lick and spit - I don't really know what I'm doing - but I often daydream of taking a year out of publishing to work as an apprentice for Philip Treacy, with access to all that great kit. I don't generally get excited about the whole fashion industry (and its emphasis on being super-thin), but I make a huge exception for hats, which can be worn by anyone. Andrea's website also has some examples of hats that you can make yourself:



Hat lovers and fashionistas around the world, you're going to adore this book. You can follow Andrea on Twitter as (@andreabeaty but sadly, David Roberts is not on Twitter. (He's too busy pumping out a prodigious amount of incredible work. How does he DO it??!)

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9. phew.

Today was my final-FINAL deadline for the interior artwork for my new picture book with Scholastic, and I finished it late last night. MASSIVE RELIEF.



That's the artwork, all rolled up, just over my shoulder. I took it in to my editor and designer (Pauliina Malinen-Teodoro and Rebecca Essilifie) and they went into raptures and said they loved it all. Another huge relief! I'm not allowed yet to say what this book's about, but it's insanely complicated. Which made them laugh when I mentioned to them that I was thinking I'd try something a bit simpler for the next book.

Now Scholastic recently acquired an AIR HOCKEY TABLE, and one of the editors, David Maybury, challenged me to a match. Check out his fearsome concentration face:



My excellent publicist David Sanger joined in the ruckus. It's the first time I've ever come out of the Scholastic building actually sweaty.



And it's all in the name of WORK.



After the meeting, I treated myself to lunch at the new Foyles bookshop cafe on Charing Cross Road, then headed home to work on the next Shark and Unicorn comic strip for The Sunday Times. I wish I could rest now, I'm very tired, I can't even write a scintillating blog post. (Are they usually scintillating?) But I've put off so much work and e-mailing to finish this picture book, that I have a quite big backlog. Aiee! But I'm very much looking forward to this Saturday morning's Cakes in Space launch, and I hope you're coming!

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10. guardian: how to draw a jampire!

I've taken part again in The Guardian's 'How to Draw' series. This time, learn how to draw a Jampire! But you have to catch one first...



And here's a more simple tutorial, which you can print from the Jampires website.

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11. a foray into mumsnet



Last week, an editor from an UK online parenting forum called Mumsnet got in touch with me and asked if I would write an 800-word article about my decision not to have children, as someone who makes children's books. I'd touched on it briefly last year when a Radio 4 editor invited me to talk about it on Woman's Hour. But the presenter, Jenni Murray, mostly glossed over it and had me talk about Oliver and the Seawigs instead (which was fine by me!). I'd never written a public article on the subject, and since I think things through better when I write them down, I felt that writing the article would be a healthy thing to do. I'm fairly sure I don't want kids, but I find it's always good to check in with myself every once in awhile, just to make sure. You can read my article on Mumsnet here.


I was surprised at the amount of feedback I got, but more so by the negative tone of the forum comments. (And yes, I didn't know much about Mumsnet before I dove in.) Some of them seemed set on ripping me to shreds. If I'd been quoting facts and figures and got them wrong, I would have expected to be challenged. If I'd told Mumsnetters what they should be doing, or belittled their choices, I would have expected them to be annoyed. But I wrote a very personal piece, reflecting on my own experience, so I thought people might find it interesting, and be able to relate to certain elements, or just skip over it if they found it irrelevant.

One friend suggested that if I'd come at it as a parent, saying I had one child and people were pressuring me to have two, I would have found more support. But many people commented that, as a childless person, I didn't belong there all all, and others castigated me for not staying right in the centre of the discussion and taking part. (I couldn’t win.)


From the public Mumsnet forum

Why did I agree to Mumsnet as a place for my article? Well, I've had people along the way who have influenced my own decision not to have kids, and I value the things they told me. Some of them were child-free and glad for it, and others were parents who regretted their decision to have children. I've had countless experiences of people telling me how wonderful parenting is, but only a few people who were honest with me about why they chose not to have kids, or why they wished they hadn't had children. I think it's important that women who are considering pregnancy get to hear from people on either side of the decision, with their varieties of backgrounds and reasoning.

Quite a few people on various forums wrote that they thought it was a non-issue.



But I also had lots of people comment on Twitter send me e-mails and direct messages on Facebook to thank me, saying that they loved the article, related to it, or were inspired by it. Other people wrote that they'd had a lot of pressure to have kids, or a second child, or seen friends pressured and bullied about it. So I know it IS an issue.


Public comments on Twitter

The comments from people claiming that it's a non-issue reminded me of people who comment on racism, saying 'I'm not racist, my friends aren't racist, why does everyone have to keep banging on about it?' ...Well, because racism still exists. And so does pressure to have children. People still berate us with assertions that we'll regret our decision. They see us as lacking something, a ‘loss’ that they don’t notice so much in men. (Notice how much more scrutiny female celebrities get about being childless than males ones do.)

If women or men are struggling with this pressure, or struggling with trying to decide whether to have children or not, why shouldn't we talk about it? Why shouldn't we share our own experiences? I accept Mumsnet criticism that I didn't write very well about the subject, or that my writing was boring; fair enough, if they think that. But I do NOT accept that, because some people think our society has 'moved on', that this means I should shut up about it.

People talk endlessly at dinner parties about far more trivial decisions, such as DIY; no one says to them, 'You shouldn't talk about your decision not to have wallpaper because that decision is totally personal and no one can tell you what to do'. People tell you about dry rot, about different pastes, about how they messed up when they tried to put it up themselves, how they really don't recommend wall paper because painting's easier, etc. So there should be even more help when people are trying to decide about having kids. People shouldn’t be told what to decide, but if they want to find out about other people’s experiences, it would be great if they had safe places to do so.

I did agree very much with one point the commenters were making, about the real taboo:



YES.

I didn't actually write that headline, ‘I don’t want children’ – is shunning motherhood the ultimate taboo?. Internet readers ought to be aware that people who write articles generally don't write the headline. That's done by the editors, who usually choose the most controversial slant they can in order to make people click on it. Be careful about reading an entire article in the light of its headline.

I agree with the commenters, deciding not to have children isn't the ultimate taboo. Talking about not wanting your children is much more of one. My heart aches for my friends who regret having children, particularly those who've told me that it's wrecked a huge part of their lives. And if they can even admit it to themelves - sometimes it's easier to repress this feeling - people who feel this way have to be very secretive about it, because it's the last thing they'd ever want their children (or possibly their partner) to hear. An anonymous Internet forum seems like an ideal place to be able to talk about this sort of thing, explore the issues and find support from other people. But the commenters I encountered didn't let me make any mistakes at all; some of them took so little time over my piece that they misread parts of it, and still waded in to hurl insults. If I did find myself pregnant, I'd be very wary of going back to these same people for help.


Comments from the public Mumsnet Facebook forum

I said I saw myself as a pioneer, and people replied that I'm wrong to think this, that my experience isn't unique; there are lots of people who don't have kids, that it's very commonplace. True! But there's nothing unique about pioneers, either, there were lots of them. And reliable birth control IS something very new in the grand scheme of history. Until the '60s, there was never a large population who could have the support of a heterosexual partner, have regular sex, and not expect to have children. This is new ground, and it gives women more space to spend a greater proportion of their lives doing things besides raising children. I'm glad I live in this time in history; I find this exciting.

But what most saddened me about the comments was the relentless sense of attack. Some of the people commenting didn't give me credit for anything; the second they saw a possible hole in what I said, they were right in there, assuming the worst. It's wrong to attack people for how they feel about something, and unhealthy to attack people who have dug into their own experiences to share something very personal. Parents, of all people, should know about good manners, because they should be teaching these good manners to their children.



Why would I want to jump into a forum discussion where people are being rude and seem bent on finding the worst in what I've said? I wasn't getting paid to return to this post, and I didn't seem much point in replying to people who found my way of writing patronising. I didn't get involved to make parents feel insulted. Also, it takes me time to think these things over, and I could see that some of the people commenting had taken very little time to think through their replies. That didn’t inspire me to dash off quick remarks, which I knew would be savagely scrutinized and misunderstood.

If Mumnet doesn't ever commission any more guest posts, it's no skin off my back. But you'd think that people in the forum would be interested in hearing new voices, possibly from people with different experiences to their own. And generally, when I do family book-related events, I find parents glad to meet me, and happy to have me work with their kids. I'd much rather take part in something where I seem to be having a positive effect on people, and where there’s an environment of mutual respect.

To those of you who thought my points were irrelevant because I’m foreign (I’ve only lived15 years in the UK) and have a different faith background: well, there are a lot of foreign people in Britain, with all sorts of faith backgrounds. If you think Mumsnet should have only one type of person on it, I feel sorry for you. (And yes, that would be patronizing but you would deserve it.)

I'm glad I wrote the article. It made me understand how, in this context, 'enlightened' thinkers can be oppressive. It's one thing to say that everyone should be able to decide for themselves about having children. That’s very true. But it's another thing to say that, since you are enlightened about the subject, the issue should be kept private and not discussed. I'd urge people not to silence other people this way, who want to talk honestly about the pros and cons of having children, or who might confide their own regrets.

I'm glad it helped some people. Thank you, to those of you who wrote me very moving messages; the short ones in public and the longer ones in private.

I hope it might be of help to friends who are trying to have children but haven't yet succeeded. I would never want to belittle their grief or say I don't support them in their efforts. But I also want to be there for them if, in their cloud of sadness, it helps them see a child-free future as a little less bleak.

. . .



I haven’t yet read these books on the subject, but after reading my post, other people have recommended them:

I Can Barely Take Care of Myself, by Jen Kirkman

Think YOU WANT kids? READ THIS!, by Caitlin Moran (Grazia magazine)

I did read this book in 2002, and I must confess I can't remember many of the details, but I do remember feeling quite taken aback:

Misconceptions, by Naomi Wolf

Feel free to suggest more reading material in the comments if you like. (Unfortunately the spam filter on my blog won’t let you post hyperlinks, but if you give the title and author, we can look them up.) And if you're coming over from Mumsnet, feel free to disagree with me but please be polite.

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12. guardian: how to draw a jampire!

I've taken part again in The Guardian's 'How to Draw' series. This time, learn how to draw a Jampire! But you have to catch one first...



And here's a more simple tutorial, which you can print from the Jampires website.

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13. gary's garden launch!

Last night the Fleece Station studio was out in force to celebrate the launch of Gary Northfield's new comic book, Gary's Garden! You may recognise Gary's Garden as a frequent strip in The Phoenix Comic, one of the comics in there that the parents like as much as the kids do because it works on so many levels.



Elissa Elwick and I both wore Chompy the Caterpillar-themed garb. Gary's Garden makes the perfect prezzie for kids (say, 5+ with some help reading), adults who love nature and gardening, anyone who likes a good laugh. Buy it here a The Phoenix Comic online shop! Gary works so hard on these comic strips, has such great drawing skills an perfectly pitched comic timing; we're all very proud of him. Look, Lauren O'Farrell (aka Deadly Knitshade) makes a perfect perch for Bob the Butterfly!




And here are the lovely Ficklings - David and Caro - who make it happen, at David Fickling Books, based in Oxford. It was also great to see Gary's Garden amazing designer Ness Wood (who also designed Jampires!), DFB's Phil Earle and John Dickinson. Jonathan Main and Justine Crow of Bookseller Crow in Crystal Palace hosted the party, and they've been great supporters of lots of our books, we love our indie. I love buying books from them, even online; they stock a great selection, including lots of beautiful graphic novels.



Gary's sister, Susannah Northfield, made the cake!



...Bits of which were consumed most elegantly by Gary and his partner Nicky Evans.



Speaking of elegance, just as David Fickling was giving his speech, a giant bird swooped down and placed a wafer upon his lips. We all bowed our heads for a moment of awed silence for this great book.



Gary made a big window display; here he is stage directing Nicky in setting it up.



There were a couple other Phoenix Comic people present: the fabulous Jamie Smart (Bunny vs Monkey, also out now as a book!) and the excellent Matt Baxter, who creates the Live from HQ strip with the Phoenix comic-character editorial crew. I didn't manage to get a photo of Jamie, but here's Matt. And you can just spot illustrator and app-creator Heather Kilgour over his shoulder! There were quite a few comics makers there that I didn't manage to photograph, including Francesca Cassavetti.



Hee hee, another hat photo.



This Thursday (called 'Super Thursday' in publishing) was also the official publication date for my book with David O'Connell, Jampires, and wow, a couple of them showed up!



It was really Gary's night, but we had a happy mix of new creative stuff.



I was very proud of my Chompy hat, made from a pencil case, foam balls and pipe cleaners from Poundland, some felt, a yoghurt pot and a coat hanger.



When creating Gary-themed characters, it's very important to get the wonky eyes right.



Before the launch, we went for a top-notch Afternoon Tea in Alex Milway and Katie Lee's garden (Gary lived with them for a couple years while he was working on Gary's Garden), and Dave and I brought along some of our local Butch Institute Jampires-themed jam.



Huge congratulations, Gary! Gary's Garden is amazing, and everyone, spread the word and help it fly off the shelves! And subscribe to The Phoenix Comic for ongoing Gary's Garden goodness.

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14. jampires character development

Jamtastic! Today's the official publication day of JAMPIRES, my picture book with my fab friend David O'Connell and our Oxford-based publisher, David Fickling Books! We're quite shocked, this book has been so long in coming - at least four years - that we sometimes thought it might never happen. But it HAS! :D


Photo by Dave Warren

So much development went into the making of this book that I'm going to run a small series here on the blog about how we made it. First, how did we design the Jampires characters? You can see them here, in some of the finished artwork:



Digging through old files, I quite like these ink sketches with their accompanying notes:




And here are some of Dave's sketches!


We both wanted the Jampires to have a slight vampiric quality to them, since they suck jam out of doughnuts, but I think I saw them as slightly more cuddly, whereas Dave's started out a bit more monster-like.


I think some of the monster stuff that didn't go into Jampires may have ended up in his Monster and Chips books.


Gosh, I'd forgotten this drawing until now. This was when we were still planning Jampires as a comic, and I think I was envisioning them a bit like Shel Silverstein, David Shrigley or Exploding Dog drawings.



And I wanted the colour palette and feel of the book to be very different to books I'd done before, but I hadn't quite hit on my new Jampires way of working in pencil. Here are some studies in tea, ink and gouache.



This was before both Jampires had hats; one of them was very bald.



I'll post more about our drawing technique soon, but I'll leave you with a Jampires mask, in case you think jam is so wonderful that you suspect you might just BE a Jampire. You can download it from our jampires.com website here!



Congratulations, Dave and TEAM JAMPIRES! Big thanks to our publisher David Fickling (who was very active in the story's creation), our editors, Hannah Featherstone in the early days and then Alice Corrie, designer Ness Wood, publicity team Philippa Perry, Manchester-based Liz Scott, Phil Earle and Anthony Hinton, to our lovely agent, Jodie Hodges, and to our partners and all our friends who gave us help and encouragement along the way!


Photo by James Petrie

Oo, and Jampires is definitely in the shops! Here's a photo tweeted in by bookseller Nora Goldberg at Foyles Southbank:

jamp_bookshop

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15. jampires book launch!


Photo by James Petrie

Hee hee, it's great fun to stand in the middle of a field wearing sparkly red platform heels when everyone else is walking around in wellies. This weekend my co-author David O'Connell and I launched our new picture book, Jampires, at The Big Feastival in Oxfordshire.


Photo by James Petrie

I couldn't believe it, I forgot to pack my Bakewell Tart hat! Nooooo!


Photo by Dave Warren

But never mind, our book was well and truly launched with a dramatic reading by David and me. (Dave's very good at doing the voices.) And I can rock a converted poodle skirt. (Thanks to my mum for helping me sew on all the Jampires.)


Photo by Neill Cameron

And I taught everyone how to draw a Jampire! 'But what is a Jampire?' you may ask. Well, if you've ever bitten into a jam doughnut and found it disappointingly dry and jamless, they are the culprits. These little critters suck out them jam. They LOVE jam. Our book is basically a hymn to jam.


Photo by James Petrie

And you can learn how to draw a Jampire, too! David and I have put all sorts of goodies on our new website, so do have fun exploring it: jampires.com


View as a PDF

We have masks, too! Check out the website! :)


Photo by James Petrie


Since the Jampires are obsessed with jam, we had actual jam on site...


Photo by James Petrie

...and an actual jam maker, who has joined our Jampires team! Meet Emma Preston-Dunlop, jam maker extraordinaire, who gave us a little lesson on how to make jam, and treated us to samples of her tasty concoctions.


Photo by James Petrie

Emma runs a jam company called The Butch Institute and while raspberry jam is always my favourite, she gives it a real run for its money with her Cherry Bakewell with amaretto syrup and almonds.


Photo by James Petrie

Since The Big Feastival's all about food, we explored, and went straight for the PIE. Gotta love a pie. Emma taught me how to eat it from a carton without getting gravy all over my skirt.


Photo by James Petrie

And our lovely publisher, David Fickling, cycled all the way over from Oxford - a two-hour journey across many hills - to be there for our launch. Hurrah! (He didn't cycle in his signature bowtie, but he put it on as soon as he arrived.)


Photo by James Petrie

JAM. Who doesn't dream about The Great Jam Pot in the Sky? *wistful sigh*



Dave and I couldn't be there both days, so actor Devon Black stepped in and led her own Jampires session on the Sunday, which looked brilliant. She made a costume, a whole new show, and I hear she did a brilliant job! Thank you SO MUCH, Devon!!


Photo tweeted by Philippa Perry

Feastival had some rival vampiric creatures, not all as small and cuddly as our Jampire.


Photo by James Petrie

After a little scare, he got a cuddle from Neill Cameron, and everything was all right.



So Neill was mostly busy drawing comic characters over in The Phoenix Comic area. He's the amazing creator of stories such as Pirates of Pangaea, Mega Robo Bros and has a new book out, How to Make Awesome Comics. Here's a Cyborg Mode Jamie Oliver (the chef who hosts the festival, along with Blur bassist-turned-cheesemaking-farmer Alex James):



The drive to Feastival was quite a long one, and our friend James Petrie was a hero and gave us all a lift in his car. As you can see, Dave and I were terrible back-seat drivers.



Lovely Dave. It's not just his genius talent, you see; I mostly work with him because he has such beautiful flowing tresses.



Big group selfie! Huge thanks to David Fickling for publishing us, Emma for being such a great Jam Master, Devon for Sunday's awesomeness, Feastival for hosting us, fab publicist Philippa Perry for organising the day, James for driving and photos, and Ann Lam for our knitted Jampire. Jammy times!



Head over to the David Fickling Books website to see their blog about Jampires, and jampires.com for all your jammy needs.

Jammy Twitter links: @davidoconnell, @DFB_Storyhouse, @ButchInstitue, #JAMPIRES

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16. Scottish Space Adventure: Edinburgh Book Festival 2014

This year Edinburgh Book Festival was OUT OF THIS WORLD!



My literary co-pilot Philip Reeve and I had been putting together a Cakes in Space stage show and this was our first full-on performance. (Since Reeve lives on Dartmoor and I'm in London, we only had one other chance to practice, at Nine Worlds a couple weeks before Edinburgh.) And just as we were leaving for Scotland, this fabulous animated Cakes in Space trailer popped up, made by Ed Beck & David Mead from MB Films:



Our book features a spaceship food machine called the NOM-O-TRON, so we brought along a smaller, portable version:



And I showed everyone how to draw Pilbeam the robot and a killer cake! Here's one of the drawings, tweeted in by @Lorna_May_D:



I still can't quite get over seeing Reeve in streaky blue hair and lipstick.



And we even got our portraits shot by festival photographer Chris Close. We were the only authors he took into his special anti-gravity booth. Thanks, Chris!





When Stuart and I first arrived at the book festival, I raced around looking at all the other photos... and spotted some friendly faces! Here's Philip Ardagh (who works with Axel Sheffler on his The Grunts books; Axel draws Julia Donaldson's Gruffalo - that's the link to the little chappie on his shoulder - and Babette Cole, with characters from her new James Rabbit and the Giggleberries book.



And while I was there, Babette drew me a birthday picture! Thank you, Babette! :D She made sure I paid special attention to the space pants.



I did quite a lot of costume changes, and Stuart was wonderful about helping me with them, even if he thought I was slightly nuts.



On the Thursday, I had a full day of Outreach Events in Fife. The festival organises these so schools and libraries outside of central Edinburgh can still take part in the festival. Here I am in the festival Yurt, very early in the morning, practicing my There's a Shark in the Bath song. I first sang it at the Hay Festival and I was super-nervous, but I'm a bit more confident about it now.



I took those sharks to Kirkcaldy West Primary School. They were great fun, that lot! And we even got our pictures in the local paper. (Thanks for tweeting that, Damon Herd!)



My assistants and I got to have lunch at the beautiful new Kirkcaldy Galleries:



The Schools Outreach is very strict about not taking photos in the schools, so I only got one. But it's of the excellent team who took me around on the day: Outreach coordinators Sarah Bingham, Grainne Crawford and Rona Neilson and a tag-along Jampire. Thanks so much, team!



One of the challenges of Edinburgh Book Fest is trying to do a few other things outside the book festival. But this time Stuart and I made a point of going to see our friend Emma Vieceli acting at The Fringe festival, in a play called Parade. She did a great job! Emma now makes comics, but she started out as a children's telly presenter and she's recorded music, and it's fun seeing her go back to her roots.



Ah, here's Emma (second from right)! Together with comics people Hannah Berry, Pat Mills and their partners:



On the way to Emma's play, Stuart spotted my Summer Reading Challenge banner in the front window of the new Edinburgh Central Children's Library, together with two of Philip Reeve's three GOBLINS books. Cool!



Another fun thing about Edinburgh is going out for publisher dinners and meet other authors who are published by the same team. Here's Philip, our excellent Oxford University Press publicist Keo Baxendine (who did a lot of our planning) and another of their writers, Wendy Meddour, whose 12-year-old daughter illustrates their Wendy Quill books. (Or maybe her daughter's older now, but still, pretty amazing.)



And hanging out in the Authors Yurt is fun, too. Everyone's sort of equal in there, so you can talk with anyone (and grab cake and whisky and other nice treats and meals). Look, it's Children's Laureate Malorie Blackman! While we were there, Malorie did an interview with a Sky reporter, quite rightly calling for more diversity in children's books, and got stuck with a very bad headline, which caused massive internet outrage, and quite a lot of abuse, too. But Malorie stuck by her guns, and all our colleagues rallied around her, and the whole thing made it much more clear just why we need more diversity in books. Not in a tick-the-box sort of way, but in a way that lots of different kinds of people can find other people like themselves in books. Patrick Ness talked on Twitter about how he couldn't find any books about gay people in his school library, and there aren't that many UK children's books with black people as the main characters. Here's Malorie's initial Sky interview, and a Guardian article about her response.



Here's Malorie's Summer Reading Challenge video:



More exciting encounters: it's Di Cameron from Oxford's Story Museum, comics artist Adam Murphy in The Phoenix Comic), comics colourist Lisa Murphy, Cameron Jr and comics artist Neill Cameron! Adam and Neill both have new books out with The Phoenix Comic and David Ficking books, compilations of their Phoenix work: Corpse Talk by Adam and How to Make Awesome Comics by Neill. Lisa did quite a lot of the colouring for Adam, and has also coloured for my studio mate Gary Northfield (Gary's Garden) when he was pressed for time.



Philip and I were hugely flattered that Geraldine McCaughrean came to our event! Geraldine's been a big influence on Philip, and her book The White Darkness is one of my all-time faves. Geraldine's on Twitter now: you can follow her: @GMcCaughrean.



Philip and I did two Cakes in Space events, one for schools and one for the general public. During the schools event, festival sketcher Morag Edward drew us! She did a great job, but I don't think we made it easy for her: "You moved around a lot!"



COSTUME CHANGE!



Ha ha, I got this week at Afflecks Palace in Manchester during an earlier festival, and I love the name of it: Skyscraper Blond.



Head of Marketing and Publicity Elaine McQuade from Oxford University Press came with Philip and me to Wester Hailes Library to do another Outreach event, this time featuring Oliver and the Seawigs. I'm really getting into this wig thing. My bird thought Elaine was rather splendid and cuddled up. One of the librarians had a phobia of feathers, so I had to put away my fluffy fan.



We had a great time at Wester Hailes, drawing Sea Monkeys with everyone and singing the EEP song, but I didn't get any photos. Our next stop was Leith Library, where we were helping them with their Summer Reading Challenge final medal ceremony. First I sang an opera aria...


Photo by Jeff Holmes

(No, not really.) If you've been following my blog, you'll have seen that MYTHICAL MAZE theme of this year's Summer Reading Challenge has been a big part of my lasts few months. I got to be the official illustrator, and when I first took on the job, I met with kids at Leith Library and got their ideas and feedback on some of the characters. So it was great coming full circle and hearing how they'd enjoyed the challenge, and congratulating them for reading their six books.


Photo by Jeff Holmes

We tried to slide the medals on gracefully and not get them stuck on anyone's ears. It's a tricky task.


Photo by Jeff Holmes

Philip and I read a bit from our Oliver and the Seawigs, the myth we've created, and I talked with the kids a bit about myth making. There's no way to say your characters will be remembered thousands of years from now, like Medusa or the Minotaur, but if you do your best, you never know!


Photo by Jeff Holmes

I led everyone in drawing Medusa, Edinburgh City Libraries' Simon Radcliffe said a few words, and our sponsor, Tesco Bank, took a big Summer Reading Challenge group photo.


Photo by Jeff Holmes

One of the fun things about this summer is the way so many kids and librarians have dressed up in mythical creature costumes, and the photographers took us outside for a few more cosplay shots:


Photo by Jeff Holmes

Whee! Thank you, Edinburgh! A huge thanks to the festival's Children & Education Programme Director Janet Smyth, and you can follow the festival on Twitter: @EdBookFest and see some other things that happened on the #EdBookFest hash tag.


Photo by Jeff Holmes

As much as I love book festivals, I find them exhausting, and I was very grateful that I didn't have to go straight back to the drawing desk (despite impending deadlines). Stuart and I took a couple more days to visit Glasgow Auntie, and she looked after us wonderfully. Here she is, having an intimate moment with a Jampire.



Glasgow Auntie took us to beautiful Troon. I had no idea Troon had such an amazing beach.



But jellyfish... JELLYFISH! We were glad we weren't swimming. Check out this alien creature that had washed up:



One last shot with lovely Stuart in the Troon sun.



Bye bye, Scotland, but just for now! If you're further south and still want to see our Cakes in Space performance, there are still a few spaces left for our Saturday morning family-friendly launch at Daunt Books Marylebone, central London on 13 Sept at 10:30am. Book your free ticket now! (You can come with kids or without, in space costume or not, it's up to you!) :)

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17. see you in edinburgh!

Hey, space cadets! I'm coming up to Edinburgh to do lots of library and school events, all coming together for my big CAKES IN SPACE event at the Edinburgh Book Festival with my co-author Philip Reeve on Saturday!

Hope you can join us! (Ticket details here.)

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18. birthday birthday!

Happy birthday to me, happy birthday to me! And because it's my birthday, that means all my favourite things: lovely drawings, hats and cake. :D If you're coming to my book party on 13 Sept (I should say, our Cakes in Space party, and you're ALL invited! Click for details.), here's a bit of help if you want to come up with a KILLER CAKE hat! There are lots of ways to make hats, and maybe you'd rather wear a space helmet, but this is one easy way.



Yay, birthday hat! Isn't it lovely?



And check out this amazing Jampire, created by Leilah Skelton!



My ol' studio matey Deadly Knitshade has put together a six-second tutorial: how to make a Killer Cake card! You can see the video here on Vine.



WOW!! Awesome space scooter by How To Make Awesome Comics author Neill Cameron!



Ha ha! Check out this drawing by my Jampires co-author, David O'Connell! :D




I tweeted, in case anyone wanted to draw something, that I'd be thrilled to bits if anyone drew me in a space scooter. Or if that was too tricky, a hamster in a fabulous hat. Look, Damiyanti Patel got my space costume just right, as well as drawing a killer-cake-led scooter!



SPACE DODGEMS. Fab drawing by Ric Lumb. :D



And speaking of that fab space costume, here's the woman who put it together, costumier Wendy Benstead! She was just in the middle of sketching designs for a client and tackled a Sarah hamster. :D



I think 'Fluff on a Rocket' should become a new exclamation, really. This in from the most excellent Jared Shurin:

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19. charlie and the chocolate box covers

I'm seeing so much furore in book world over this new Penguin cover for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory!



Of course, the illustrators immediately have to jump in, doing joke reboots of their own books. Here's my studio mate Gary Northfield, who started it off:



And I added a few more:



A lot of people hate this Penguin cover. Here's Penguin's response (and my short response) in The Bookseller article by Charlotte Eyre. But it raises a lot of interesting points. Why do people hate it?

1. Because it's not the 'original cover'. Why fix it when it ain't broke?

Here's a comment on The Telegraph article about it:



But what is 'the original' cover? A lot of people have been mentioning Quentin Blake, but the first time I read it, it wasn't a Blake cover or illustrations. I don't even remember the illustrator, just that it was much more dense, cross-hatched drawing. That's who I associate with the book.

2. Why detract from 'the whole childhood innocence of the storyline'?

Guys, I hate to break it to you, but Roald Dahl one was one sick puppy. And you know what? Your kids are, too. Not in an unnatural way, just in a way that they like seeing vengeance enacted on people who aren't nice. They don't always want clean, caring solutions to problems, they want to see other people GET WHAT THEY DESERVE, watch them squirm. I loved some of Dahl's books as a kid (NOT Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator - that one gave me the heebie jeebies) and I love them now. I was a Roald Dahl Funny Prize judge. But Dahl's stories have some very dark, often cruel themes, and people misbehave very badly, and get away with it.

You might have cosy, vague memories of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory as a story about a group of kids and their parents who get to venture into a wonderful, magical kingdom of sweets, presided over by a sort of Santa figure. Nope, it's not like that. Or that's not all of it. Think again: an eccentric inventor brings select children - mostly rich ones, because statistically they had a better chance of winning his competition - into his factory, cut off from the norms of society, police, medical workers, etc. He gradually picks them off, punishing the horrid children who have all become that way because their parents are equally vile. In the real world, his punishments would have killed them all, but they survive their various tortures, using strange forms of his own medicine, which in one case, involves stretching a shrunken child on something like a rack. In the end, it's the one poor kid left, who had a decent upbringing, and he gets to start the cycle all over again if he so wishes.

This is not a nice, cosy story. And I like that the new cover makes me remember this.

3. This sexualised image is totally inappropriate.



Well, I wouldn't go that far. This image isn't any more sexualised than the dolls you see being marketed to children every day in shops. And the children in the story are, in a way, dolls of their parents. They haven't been able to rise out of their parents' mean-ness, and everything's exacerbated by their new-found fame. But this cover does make the book something I wouldn't buy for a child as a present. I'd be worried they wouldn't see the irony in it. This book is aimed only at adults, and if a shop is going to stock it, they'd need to stock two books. Do they want to give it that much shelf space? That's a business question.

4. It's too vague: it doesn't show what's in the book.



This is actually my least favourite point. When designers get scared, they go for the most straightforward solutions to covers: stick the main characters on the cover. Do the obvious. When I talk with kids about book/comic design, I ask them what's the most important thing about their cover. They usually say that it reflect what's in the book. I tell them that this is partly right. But even more important, it's that their cover makes someone take the book off the shelf, open it to look inside, and check it out of the library or buy it. It has to zing, it has to engage, it has to stand out from the millions of books out there, it has to make people want to find out more. Lots of people are talking about this book, so on one level, it has succeeded. Would they buy it? This is yet to be seen. I'm half-tempted to buy it myself, as a sort of souvenir.

I was interested to see this posted on my Facebook feed, from Penguin US, a very, VERY literal rendition of the cover:



I'm not sure I like that. I think I would have liked it as a kid for its comics-bookish appearance, but as an adult, it feels like a sort of corporate mapping exercise. If we only get literal covers, we're going to miss out on some of the ethereal, can't-put-your-finger-on-it beauties, such as Dave Shelton's A Boy and a Bear in a Boat. That cover is incredibly brave and wonderful, but the US editors decided it would be safer and more marketable to go with the main characters on the front. Both are good, but I'm so glad the original cover happened. It's a curious wonder of design (by Ness Wood, working with Dave Shelton and David Fickling Books; Ness also designed Morris the Mankiest Monster and Jampires). Dave's original cover creates a mood, rather than giving you obvious information about the book, and this is what the Penguin cover sets out to do.



5. Why do we even have to put adult covers on children's books?

I'm not sure about this, that's a problem I've never really understood, why some adults don't like to be seen reading children's books. And why publishers are finding a market in that. Maybe some adults think all children's books are boringly safe and cosy, and they'd be wrong, but a lot of the covers might not even be reflecting what's inside, they're TOO sweet to be true. Books like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory are pretty dark, actually. But if there's money in selling books with overly sweet covers, overly adults covers... well, I want to see the stories get out there. It gives more work to designers, illustrators and photographers. If you don't like this cover, don't buy it. I suspect several people will have their nostalgia tweaked by hating this cover and go off and buy another version.

So do I like the cover? I'm not sure. And that's what I like about it, that it's making me think, and remember the darker aspects of the story. Children's books SHOULD make us think, and ask questions. And I want publishers to take risks. TAKE RISKS. Make people think, discuss, ask questions. Taking risks isn't the natural way of things in children's books, especially when good ideas have gone through the wringers of sales and marketing meetings. You wouldn't believe the sorts of discussions that go on in there. I stand up for books that aren't bland, books that make us think, and that means mistakes are inevitable. And a 'mistake' depends on who's talking. A commercial mistake? A moral mistake? A mistake of taste?

In The Bookseller article, it quotes the Penguin spokesperson saying:

"What has added to the upset stems from the way readers associate certain books with certain covers. Any deviation from the norm – in the form of a new cover – is an affront to their own experience of the book."



No. We're not clear.

Why would I want edgy stories to be lost in the fog of fluffy chocolate-box nostalgia? There are a lot of reasons I might not like this cover, and several reasons I do; we're not clear, and I'm glad about this.

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20. nine worlds geekfest

This weekend I went to my first Nine Worlds Geekfest! I did four events, but my big one was introducing CAKES IN SPACE, my brand-new book with Philip Reeve, and Oxford University Press came up with some pre-launch copies just for the convention. Philip and I performed in costume, of course.



And we certainly weren't the only ones who dressed up! My studio mate Lauren O'Farrell had knitted a giant hammer just for the occasion. Here she is with a sword-bearing Andrew Coulson on the bridge. The hotel (the Radisson Blu Edwardian Heathrow) was cool; it had lots of bridges, glassy atriums, waterfalls, ponds and strange air ducts.


Photo from Lauren's Instagram


Of course, I was on the lookout for good hats, as always.



One of the great things about this year's Nine Worlds is that the organisers made a huge effort to make it welcoming and accessible to everyone, including children and famiilies. (That isn't always the case at conventions.) I was very pleased to arrive and find I had one SUPER FAN, who went absolutely wild with joy when she found out I was there. Here's Katie. I had so much fun walking into rooms and hearing her cry out, 'LOOK! IT'S SARAH MCINTYRE!!!!' I stayed overnight and in the morning, I'd planned to meet up with a bunch of people for breakfast. But I didn't realise that there were three different breakfast rooms, missed everyone, and had breakfast with Katie instead. Which was great. Here are our TOAST FACES. You can see more photos posted by her dad, Martin Hand, over on his Flickr set.



Publisher Gollancz hosted a party on Saturday evening called 'Promnado', where I got to meet writer Emma Newman, about whom I'd heard so much from Philip Reeve (who'd been on a panel with her at Bristol Con). I found out that she's recorded a series of podcasts, in a sort of gameshow format, called Tea and Jeopardy, and I'm looking forward to listening to them. And here she is with Gareth L. Powell, who was on a panel with me about Food in Science Fiction. Gareth was great; whenever things got a bit heavy, he'd crack a joke and have everyone laughing. Made me want to read his books.



The crowd was slightly different than my usual crowd: some of the comics people, a couple people from children's books, but mostly SF and fantasy people I didn't know. Which was cool, it's nice to branch out. The atmosphere felt a bit more politically charged than gatherings I go to, more along the lines of Laydeez Do Comics in the way people talk very academically of social issues, and it made me a little bit want to come out and say very un-PC things, just to be ornery. But most of the time it was great to see people being included so carefully. Although occasionally it was hard to maintain eye contact with everyone, ha ha...



For my CAKES IN SPACE event with Philip, it was the first time we'd run through it, since we can't really practice, when I'm in London and he's in Dartmoor. But it seemed to go pretty well, and the next time we'll be doing it is at the Edinburgh Book Festival on 23 Aug. At the end, I taught everyone how to draw Pilbeam the robot, one of the stars of the book.



Our audience was younger than our usual events, but I was impressed how even the youngest kids seemed able to follow along. And fun to see their parents drawing along with them. That's so important to me, seeing kids and adults drawing side by side. It makes the kids feel much more proud of what they're doing, and often surprises the adults, who might have thought they couldn't draw.






I can't remember her name, but the lady in the tiara here was one of the people who organised the children's activities and kept them all happy and busy. It cracked me up, watching her Spider-man son racing up and down the corridor in her high-heeled shoes.



One of the costume-related activities revolved around some blue plastic chips. Everyone got some in their registration pack and we could give them to people whose costumes we admired. At first I thought it was a bit weird, but then I came to realise it was a great way for shy people to tell other people they looked good, without worrying the other person would think they were hitting on them, or that they might be saying something inappropriate.



This Sharknado costume was pretty impressive. Sharnado Boy Max Edwards came along to the Comics Monsterclass I led with Philip Reeve. Our adult group was nicely mixed; some professional comics people with people who had never made comics. Philip and I gave them some tips for drawing comics, then led them in a four-panel Comics Jam. It's a bit like Consequences or Chinese Whispers: everyone spends five minutes drawing the first panel, we all pass our papers to the left and pick up with panel 2 on the next comics. So we ended up with a bunch of comics where each panel was drawn by a different person.



I'm coming out with a picture book this autumn, JAMPIRES, that's based on a Comics Jam I did with my friend David O'Connell. We've posted a guide to taking part and leading Comics Jams on our Jampires website: www.jampires.com. Feel free to print out the guide and use it if you want to do this with your friends, family, school, etc.







Some more people photos. Here's writer Sophia McDougall! I briefly reviewed her book Mars Evacuees at the end of this previous blog post; I really enjoyed it, and it's suitable for kids, perhaps slightly older than Cakes in Space.



Some more fine folk at Promnado: Emma Price, Andrew Ruddick, Simon Gurr and Emma Vieceli.



The best bit about Promnado was seeing Philip in EYE MAKEUP, with BLUE STREAKS in his hair. I'd already seen him wear blue lipstick at our pre-launch party, but... BLUE LIPSTICK. Ha ha, so awesome.



Before he got all spaced up, we ran into ,a href=http://jabberworks.livejournal.com/data/"http://www.joanne-harris.co.uk/">Joanne Harris</a> (author of Chocolat, among other books), who'd just finished speaking on a panel. I follow her on Twitter - @joannechocolat - and she often says things that make me think.



Another person I love following on Twitter is @EwaSR (Ewa, pronounced 'ever'), and I discovered she's even taller than I am! By an inch. And she never fails to dig up the most interesting stuff on the Internet.



Another fun thing was getting to meet Emma Vieceli's collaborative comics partner, writer Malin Rydén, who'd come specially from Sweden. They're posting their comic BREAKS online as they go, then printing it up at the end. Here they are with a printed prologue.



So much of the hotel was nice, and the event spaces friendly, that this one anomaly threw me for a loop. Such a weird room, with a vending machine that didn't accept money.



Huge thanks to writer Danie Ware for hosting us at the Forbidden Planet table and stocking Cakes in Space and Oliver and the Seawigs.



And an enormous round of applause for Jared Shurin and Anne Perry, the driving force behind Nine Worlds. (They were dressed up for the other days; sorry for catching you on the one day you were in civies, guys!) They are truly amazing people. Thanks for inviting me, Anne and Jared! And thanks to the big team who made everything go so smoothly.



My next events - on Friday - are at World Con, otherwise known as LonCon3, and you can find out more over on their website here.

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21. apologies, apologies... and the importance of play



My last blog post was full of fun doodles and as I was writing the text, I started coming out with what I've written in this blog post. But looking at it - such a fun, light, blog post - I thought, no. I don't even want these words sitting together with it, as a sort of apology. There's nothing wrong with having a bit of a play while I'm working, no matter how busy I am. I shouldn't have to taint every bit of fun with an apology or explanation. But often I feel like I ought to.

Dear Sarah, I've noticed on Twitter that you've had some extra time to draw. I was wondering if you could make a drawing for my charity? Perhaps a drawing of a ________, since that is the charity mascot. If you could send it by next week, that would be wonderful.

That's a made-up e-mail, but it looks like several e-mails sitting right now in my Inbox. And because of these, I feel the imagined pressure from the much larger stack of other unanswered e-mail requests, even though I know I shouldn't.

One thing that really gets my back up is that when people see me on Twitter or my blog, making these light sketches, they assume I have lots of extra time and contact me, pointing out this observation, and requesting items for charity, a free drawing for their child, etc. I'm actually a bit frantic about my deadline, but if I get too worked up, I just shut down and can't do anything. There are certain things I need to do, just to keep my brain working right, and my creativity going.



If my creativity dries up, that's the end of my job. These things I do can look a lot like play - they are play - but it doesn't mean I have any shortage of things to do. I might even want to see my husband sometimes, or have a weekend. Blogging takes time, but it helps me process what I've been getting up to, so I don't get overwhelmed as everything swirls into an unmanageable, half-remembered blur.

I've reluctantly had to start turning down all requests to do any more events this year. If you could come along to the events I'm already doing, that would be WONDERFUL. If you catch me at an event, there's a lot more chance you might get a spur-of-the-moment sketch, and I usually make a little drawing when I sign books. Even Summer Reading Challenge library events; I'd genuinely love to visit every library in Britain, but if I take any more days out of my schedule, I won't have any new books.

Please, please don't send me any more requests for drawings to send to charity right now. I've been getting an overwhelming amount of requests recently and can't even stay on top of the e-mails. It makes me feel a bit panicky, thinking people might assume my lack of reply shows coldness from me, or that I don't think their charity is important. They are very important, I just can't deal with the sheer volume. Opening my Inbox feels like walking down the Strand in London, dodging chuggers. Except imagine that all those charity people in their branded vests are nice people you know at least a little bit, quite possibly volunteers, you know that they're working hard themselves, and most likely they've done helpful things for you so you feel you owe them a favour. How long do you think it would take you to walk down the road?

If I had staff who could answer the e-mail, put the paper in front of me and whisk it away and take care of posting it after I finished, that would be one thing.



But as it is, a single 'simple' request can take more than an hour to deal with: doing the 5-minute sketch, finding packaging, addressing it, walking it over to the not-very-nearby post office, walking back. People give me lots of tips - get an intern, hire staff, take everything at once to the post office, etc - but I can't really deal with all that right now. Taking on staff requires time - I'd need to manage them and look after them - not to mention cost. (Don't mention interns; they take more time than you would think, and there's physically no space for them to sit in the studio.) I really just need to get on with my work and send out a mass apology if I haven't answered your e-mail.

I feel a bit weird that I feel I need to apologise for doing what I want with my own time, but the issue keeps coming up. And I remember all the years of when no one wanted me to do anything at all, that was hard in a different way. I wish there was some balance, a middle ground, it seems like it's either all or nothing in book world.

So yes, you may see me 'playing', and it's not saying that these requests aren't all important, perhaps even more important. But I just need to do it.

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22. nerd paint tips

I've been working hard painting a picture book, and I've started posting occasional painting tips, techniques that come to mind while I encounter them in my own work. I tweet them with the hash tag #NerdPaintTips.



'How to paint an iced lolly' was a request from Jonathan L. Howard and Martin Hand, after I'd posted this little tutorial:



Often when I'm working on a big complicated picture, I start to lose perspective on it and, in a way, forget the basics of drawing. It can really help to back away and draw something else, something silly, or something with a loose line. Something that doesn't matter how it turns out, and no one's told me to do it, so it doesn't feel like an assignment. Here's a loose self-portrait, that only looks a little bit like me:



And I tweeted that I'd draw the next person who tweeted their photo at me. Here's Alice Nuttall:



And one more, for Gillian Cross:



That was fun. :)

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23. how to draw anansi: new video!



Remember when I posted this 'How to Draw Anansi' sheet?



Well, the Summer Reading Challenge have put up a video from my studio where I draw it for you, and talk you through it! And I also give you a little look at the two books I have coming out this autumn: Cakes in Space with Philip Reeve and Jampires with David O'Connell.



Click here to read my earlier blog post about Anansi, and here to download the drawing sheet as a PDF. And don't forget, if you're age 12 or younger, there's still time to enter the Medusa Malarky comics competition! The final deadline is Sept 8th.



Still don't know about the Summer Reading Challenge? It's not too late to take part! Click here to find out more.

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24. cakes in space launch party!

Hurrah! You're all invited to celebrate the blast-off of my new book with Philip Reeve,
CAKES IN SPACE!!!



Sept 13th: We having a Saturday morning family-friendly celebration at central London's gorgeous Daunt Books Marylebone, where you'll get to hear the Cakes in Space song, see the highly scientific Nom-O-Tron in action, and learn how to draw a robot! Bring your kids or come by yourself, dress up in space gear or come just as you are, it'll all be good fun. But do be sure to book your place, either by e-mailing Daunt Books at orders@dauntbooks.co.uk or calling them at 020 7224 2295. Here's the Cakes in Space Facebook party page, if you want to let us know if you're coming (but you'll still need to contact Daunt Books).



Now for a little peek at Cakes in Space, to whet your appetite. The book starts with Astra and her family, who are travelling to the far-off planet of Nova Mundi. It's going to take 199 years to get there, and Astra's understandably a bit nervous! But her parents reassure her that they'll all be sleeping in freezer pods, and will wake up when they arrive, as though the trip were only a single night. (Philip and I thought that there aren't enough cryonics in children's books.)



Here you can see an advert for marvellous Nova Mundi.



Astra and her family must first take a shuttle...



... and at last arrive at the mothership.



You may think I was drawing tech the whole time in this book, but you'll find some leafy scenes when Astra and her robot friend, Pilbeam, discover the ship's herbarium.



Astra shouldn't even be awake, but things on the ship have gone very wrong after she tampered with the food machine. Oh look, some aliens!



And that malfunctioning food machine - the Nom-O-Tron? Well, I just have two words for you... KILLER CAKES. Get ready for the CAKES IN SPACE. And yes, the book does contain a high-power spork battle.



See you at the party! If you can't come to that, have a peek at my Events Page, where you can see if Philip and I might be coming to your area and can sign and doodle in your book.

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25. comics jamming at london world con

Last Friday I went to the huge international Science Fiction convention that is World Con, this year hosted right in my hometown! (And somewhat confusingly, also called < ahref="http://www.loncon3.org/">LonCon3</a>.) And I saw some familiar faces right away! Spot the family who were in my Nine Worlds convention blog post from the previous weekend... (The lady in the excellent Vivien of Holloway dress is Adela Terrell.)



And since I was going to lead a Comics Jam session, I wore my best Jampires dress! And brought along my beautiful new Jampire friend, knitted as a surprise by Ann Lam. Poor little Jampire; World Con was a BIG PLACE and he couldn't find jam anywhere, just post-apocalyptic landscape.


First photo tweeted by @ExLibrisNora


Meanwhile, I was schmoozing it up in the Green Room with writer Emma Newman in her amazing red frock coat. Wait, check it out, the Green Room at the Excel Centre was in this crazy pod on stilts. Funnily enough, I also sat right by George RR Martin in there, but since I don't watch or read Game of Thrones;, the experience was a bit wasted on me and I chatted with fab Hannah Berry instead. Cons are like that for me, I don't know any of the people I'm supposed to know, because I never get a chance to WATCH TELLY.



So for the Comics Jam session, I brought along a range of indie/self-published comics, a mix of work by adults and kids, to show to the group. And I talked about how writing and drawing are one thing, but making their own books is even better, because they can learn how a whole book is put together, practice the form, and play around a bit with marketing it, designing covers, etc.



Here we are, in the midst of the Comics Jam, everyone working on panel number three at the same time.



And a couple of the comics we came up with, each panel drawn by a different person:



One of the dads in particular was very interested in helping his son find out more about making comics, and I was hugely pleased to be able to recommend Neill Cameron's brand-new book, How to Make Awesome Comics. In the past, I've recommended Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics, but I find Scott's book has a bit too much advanced technical theory for younger kids, say, under 10 or 12. Neill's book is a wonderful gap-filler and I know I will be recommending it often. (You can buy it here from The Phoenix Comic online shop, among lots of other great kid-appropriate comics.)



Oh, and as a side-note, Scott McCloud will be a special guest this October at the Lakes Internation Comic Art Festival in Kendal, which I'll be attending. Neill does lots of workshops at the Story Museum in Oxford and elsewhere, so keep an eye on his website events page.



If anyone from the Comics Jam is looking for guidance specifically on running more Comics Jams, I've created a guide with my Jampires picture book co-author David O'Connell on our Jampires.com website.


Click here to read more

I also spoke on another panel on art, and then went to see Audrey Niffenegger give the English PEN H.G. Wells talk. I sat next to Sophie Lyons, who'd studied on Audrey's novel writing course in Chicago. Audrey talked about Wells' short story The Door in the Wall, which I managed to find and read online late that night. It's like a dark inversion of one of my childhood favourites, The Secret Garden, about a man who once finds a wonderous door to a garden and then spends the rest of his life yearning for that garden; he's unable to find the door, except at the most inopportune times, when he feels he can't take time to walk through it. Good stuff.



And here are some of the LonCon team! There's Maura McHugh, Erin Horáková, James Bacon and Esther MacCalum-Stewart, and they all looked after me very well. Thanks so much!



I knew Maura from trips to Ireland, where she had hosted me when I spoke to the Dublin chapter of Laydeez Do Comics. Maura does loads of things, but you might know her for the famous list she made of currently practicing female comic artists in the UK and Ireland... Ah, and I see she's widened it to Wome in Comics in Europe! You can follow her on Twitter as @splinister.



I made a quick foray into the Dealers Hall and saw the art exhbition, and was particularly pleased to see my ol' studio mate Ellen Lindner's books on display at the Soaring Penguin table, manned by John Anderson and Nora Goldberg.



So my experience doesn't even begin to encompass the vast scale of the con, and it ran for five days. But I was glad to have a little window into it, for the day I was there. Thanks, Maura and James, for inviting me to be a part of it!



I'll leave you with a few more of the Comics Jams.



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